BiND: Day 11
At last we get back into stories! Numbers contains some of the coolest stories in the Bible, I think. The cloud of God’s glory leaves the tabernacle when it’s time to move on, stays when it’s time to stay put. The people celebrate their first Passover after leaving Egypt (this one doesn’t seem to have lots of death like the first one did). Miriam gets leprosy for 7 days because she logs a jealous complaint against her little brother Moses. The Israelites send spies into the promised land and discover all kinds of fruit—grapes, pomegranates (yum!), and figs—but still are too scared to move in. Moses strikes a rock (like he did before, remember? back in Exodus?) to get water for the people, but this time God sees it as unfaithful (it wasn’t done at God’s direction or command) and Moses is told he won’t enter the promised land, even after all the work he’s done. And, of course, the people complain, complain, complain, and even rebel a couple of times (leading to death and destruction—the earth opens up and swallows families whole, a serpent comes and bites people, which can only be cured by looking at a bronze serpent statue, fire consumes would-be priests…). This is pretty exciting stuff!
I’m intrigued by the formula that the writer uses each time he talks about the complaining. “The people complained against Moses” (and sometimes it even says they spoke against God!) saying “would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Why did you bring us out here? It would be better to go back.” Over and over the people complain about not having meat, not having water, not having a big enough army, etc. And over and over it’s recorded as a complaint against God. God is their leader, their provider, their everything. Complaining against Moses, God’s representative, is the same thing as saying to God, “you messed up bringing us out here—take us back to slavery!” Each time, God gets angry and fed up, and each time Moses intercedes (even though he was probably fed up too!) and makes it true that “the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” Each time God relents and lets the people go on (well….most of the people). It’s interesting to ponder what this means about the covenant God has made with the people. From the people’s end, it’s already not going so well—there’s a pretty serious lack of trust (which is interesting since they’ve seen what God can do!). So God decides that these people who have seen but still do not believe will not get to live in the promised land—that will be for the next generation, ones who grow up relying on God rather than on themselves, ones who know nothing but God’s providing for them. It’s an interesting strategy. But God keeps God’s promises—God doesn’t let the people go from the covenant, God just keeps asking that they try to be good covenant partners, over and over.
photo is of the Canaanite city of Arad, hometown of the king mentioned in Numbers 21. Photo by TCP